Lloyd McNeil’s solo project music are multi-dimensional and presented live painting during his performance. Indeed, his high degrees of educations in the art fields and his slight involvement in the Civil Rights Movement and the counterculture of the late 60’s, as well as his contacts in other artistic realms (including Picasso) lead his performances reach unusual levels of originality. Most likely the artwork of Asha is the result of one of them.
Although the leader is a flutist, LMcN’s quintet is piano-oriented with Gravatt’s (future Weather Report) percussions adding dimension, bringing energy levels that are often found in the then-nascent JR/F adventures of the times. McNeil’s flute styles is fairly different to his other jazz colleagues (Herbie Mann, Jeremy Steig, Rashaan, etc…), because he also diddles with the piccolo, thus giving a special sonic to his albums. Gene Rush’s piano has a certain Tyner-esque feel at times, thus giving a modal ambiance that can remind Coltrane.
Opening on the almost 9-mins title track (whose name hints at psychedelic and oriental dimensions), we’re directly transported in soundscapes that are more reminiscent of the 70’s, induced by Gravatt’s powerful drumming (reminiscent Elvin Jones). Don’t get me wrong, these Coltrane references that I’m giving you are just indicative, and while somehow that mythic quartet’s shadow is indeed hovering over the album, there is no way you’d ever mistake Asha for anything else than a McNeil oeuvre. The same “Asha” ambiances are to be heard in a few other tracks (namely Dig Where Dats At), but some compositions (like Matter Of Fact, Effervescence or 2/3’s Pleasure) are more conventional and 60’s-ish. The closing spellbinding Sunny Day is very descriptive of its title, and ends in total serenity. Note that Lloyd uses more piccolo (slightly annoying throughout the total duration of the album) on Asha than necessary.
An unusually long album for the times and the genre (well over 20 minutes per side), Asha is a fantastic testimony of the artistic creativity of the counterculture, then at its apex in the late 60’s. Sadly enough McNeil’s discography is limited to the wider-70’s (from 69 to 80), but his early contributions are absolutely essential. I’m not exactly sure how he got tagged as “third stream”, since in the few works of his that I’m familiar with, his music rarely veers towards classical music, and when it does, it’s purely classical, with no jazz in the mix. But that is simply not applicable to this Asha album, where we’re dealing more with a pre-JR/F jazz and not at all with "Third Stream", one a very solid effort, at that.
BTW, the CD reissue comes in a weird “reduced-to-CD-size” DVD package (the first and only time I encountered this presentation), but a specially-formatted booklet with extensive liner notes, but unfortunately the back cover didn’t get adapted, and the legibility is very average.